Saturday, 7 August 2010

Life in colonial Kensington.

PHOTO: Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins with her son,  James Haynes Atkins. Circa: 1870.

Having arrived in the new colony of South Australia in March of 1847  Elizabeth Mashford married Peter Lewis in November of the same year and the couple set up home in Kensington ... now one of Adelaide's better suburbs.

The research 'fairy' has been hard at work again and new information has come from Kylie Nott whose husband is descended from Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins' first child, George Lewis.

It seems that the family has a Bible which was presented by George Lewis  to his wife, Sarah Barber Griffiths in 1882. George was listed as a boundary rider when he signed as a witness at the marriage of his half-sister Mary Atkins to her Greek 'sailor' Charlie Ross.
BELOW: Bible Front Page.
George Lewis, the first of Elizabeth Mashford's children, as far as we know, was born July, 8, 1848 in Kensington, Adelaide.

Peter Lewis is recorded as working as a servant on George's birth certificate. It was Elizabeth's brother, George Mashford, who notified the authorities of the birth of his young nephew.

Kensington Village had been established in November 1838 within seventeen months of the first landing at Holdfast Bay. The plan for the village was created by B.J. Hughes and it was named after the birthplace of Queen Victoria. The streets were intersected by Hallet's Rivulet (Second Creek) and notices in The Register made it clear that the creek would be able to supply plentiful water to the village for at least nine months of the year. The first plan allowed for 114 allotments of one acre each which could be sold. And most of them would have creek frontages.

The colony was thriving at this time with new settlers arriving by the shipload. Many of them were from Germany, including some of my maternal ancestors and many of them were from Ireland; fleeing the terrible potato famine. The Mashfords were like thousands of others who crossed the ocean to a strange new land in the hope of a better life.

PHOTO: The Mashford family would have sailed to Australia on a ship like this.


While information about the Mashford's in England is scant, it is clear they were poor or they would have made 'better' marriages in Australia. Research so far shows Mashfords, who might be Elizabeth and her brother John, working as servants in London in the years prior to their journey to Australia. If Elizabeth Mashford married a servant there is a very good chance that she was a servant as well and an even better chance that they met and fell in love while working together.

By the time  Elizabeth and Peter's second child was born they were living in Marryattville. This is an adjacent suburb to Kensington but, in the 1840's would have been a nearby village. By July 1853 the villages of Kensington and Marryattville along with Norwood were incorporated into a town. This was the first Municipal Town, outside of the city of Adelaide, to be proclaimed in South Australia.

It was a first in the new colony's electoral history when the new council election was conducted using an electoral roll, independent poll clerks and scrutineers and voting papers. The first mayor, Charles Bonney, was elected through a secret ballot - believed to be the first such ballot in Australia's electoral history. In 1856 the village of Kent Town was added to the municipality and in 1859, South Australia's first Town Hall was built on The Parade at Norwood. But by this time Elizabeth Mashford Lewis would be remarried and living with Edward Atkins in the mid-north of the State.

The move which Elizabeth and Peter made to the nearby village of Marryattville was probably because of Peter's work. Either he had changed jobs or his employers had moved house.

Elizabeth and Peter may well have set up home in the outbuildings of one of the grand homes of Kensington or Marryattville or in a little cottage on the estate. Or Peter may have worked for less gentrified settlers and he and Elizabeth and their children may well have lived in a hut made of daub and wattle. In those days it was common for servants to either live in accommodation near or in the house of their employer.


PHOTO: Wattle and daub homes were common in Australia's early settlement.

Elizabeth and Peter could have lived in something like this in Kensington and Marryattville. However, as servants they may have lived in the smaller front section while their employers occupied the larger part of the house at the back. Or, if they were lucky they may have lived in the servant's quarters of a stone house owned by gentry.

Their second son John Mashford Lewis was born at Marryatville on December 10, 1850 and their third son, Henry Lewis was also born at Marryatville on January 22, 1854.

Three years after young Henry's birth Elizabeth would marry Edward Atkins. Clearly Peter Lewis was alive in 1853 but there is as yet no evidence that he lived to see the birth of his third child. There is however an assumption that he died. One presumes that because Elizabeth entered into a lawful marriage with Edward Atkins that she was a widow but, given the times and the lack of careful recording, she may just have been an abandoned wife. 

However, if Elizabeth had been abandoned instead of widowed, her second marriage would have been bigamous because she did not wait the required seven years. Whatever the reason Peter Lewis had clearly disappeared by 1857 and Edward Atkins became step-father to a nine-year-old, seven-year-old and a three-year-old.

At the time of their marriage both Edward and Elizabeth lived at Rocky River in South Australia's mid-north. When or why they moved there is not known. Rocky River is not a town or a village, but a river of some length. They could have lived anywhere along this river but the two settlements are Charlton and Wirrabarra, in the Hundred of Appila. Both of these settlements are named as birthplaces for their children with Mary Atkins Ross being born at Wirrabarra along with her sister Elizabeth and James's birth recorded as being at Charlton.

This area was a long way north in the mid 1800's and must have taken days of difficult travel. Elizabeth must have had a strong desire or need to move from the bustling city of Adelaide to the isolation of Rocky River. Perhaps she had family living and working in the mine at Charlton or cutting timber in Wirrabarra Forest. It would not have represented a move 'up in the world' because living conditions were far more primitive than those to be found in town.

 LEFT: Living under canvas was common in the early years of Australia's settlement and throughout the 1800's in isolated areas.

Charlton and Wirrabarra may well have been 'tent towns' when Elizabeth and her sons went to live there. At best it would have been a shelter made of timber and hessian. One likes to think with the Wirrabarra Forest so close that she was living in a substantial house made of timber. The winters are cold and the summers baking in South Australia and particularly so in the mid-north of the State.

But at least they had fresh water close to hand. The Rocky River was named because of its 'rocky' bed. Hardly surprising if one thinks about it which E.J. Eyre clearly did when he discovered it in 1839. The River runs through the towns of Laura, Wirrabara and Gladstone ....  the latter being the town where  many members of the Atkins family would ultimately live and marry and in most cases, die ...and is close to the Charlton Mine.

For Edward Atkins however, the Wirrabarra Forest would be his final home.  He died on November 15, 1891 at the age of 78 and is buried in White Park Cemetery at Wirrabara.  All of his children were married and living in Gladstone by this time. We know that Mary had been there for at least fourteen years because her illegitimate son, Edward, was born at the end of 1877. One presumes that shortly after her husband's death, Elizabeth also made the move to  Gladstone in order to be with her children... particularly her daughters.

Edward listed himself as a blacksmith and there would have been work both in Charlton and the Wirrabara Forest for a man with these skills.  Charlton had a copper mine and the Wirrabara Forest, formerly known as White Forest, was used for logging. There would have been tools to repair and, in the case of the Charlton mine, structures to build.

LEFT: Edward Atkins circa: 1870's.

Although, by 1862 Edward is listed as a shepherd and not a blacksmith. At this time he was 49 years of age and had perhaps been injured or was finding the work too demanding. Becoming a shepherd may have been choice or chance but there is no doubt that at this time there was plenty of work in the area.

The Wirrabarra Sheep Station was one of the largest in South Australia and it employed numerous shepherds; for the simple reason that fences were unknown. The shepherd was required to ride and care for his horse and to follow the sheep and prevent them from straying too far.

Perhaps Edward's work drew his step-son George Lewis into a job as a boundary rider and his son, James Haynes Atkins, into his work as a groom.

Edward and Elizabeth married in Penwortham in the Clare Valley, a few hours (in those days) to the south of Rocky River. The Anglican Church of St. Marks in Penwortham was built in 1850 and may have been the closest Anglican church to where they lived. Although, given that Edward Atkins had listed Hutt River as his place of residence when he married Hannah McLeod, it is also possible, if not likely, that he had friends, or even family living there.

The marriage certificate shows that one of the witnesses,E. Greenslade came from Penwortham and the other, Abraham Cundall (farmer) from Armagh. Both villages are located in the Hundred of Clare, as is the Hutt River.


BELOW: A timber hut from the 1880's. Something like this would have been 'home' for Elizabeth Mashford 'Lewis' Atkins during her time in the Wirrabarra Forest.

Elizabeth would have had her hands full with  three young sons, the demands of a primitive, rural and isolated life and with her first daughter, Elizabeth Atkins born on November 22, in the same year of her marriage.

Mary (Polly) Atkins was born two years later on December 12, 1859 and James Haynes Atkins was born three years later on January 2, 1862.  Elizabeth and Edward would have had six children aged from infancy to 14 years  to raise. Although, given the times, this was probably considered to be a small family.

However it may have only been five children. There are no further records to date for Henry Lewis and while there are also no burial records, he may have died as a child. The ability to record his death and burial while living in the isolation of the Wirrabaraa Forest would have been severely limited.

LEFT: List of family deaths in George Lewis's Bible.

John Mashford Lewis died in an accident in 1888, the year his half-sister Mary Atkins married Charlie Ross. He is listed as being buried in Gladstone Cemetery on January 15, aged 37 years. Although is death is also recorded in the family Bible handed down by George Lewis  to his descendants where John is listed as being 31 when he died. George Lewis died on April 22, 1919 at the age of 77.

By this time Mary Atkins Ross had lost her father, her husband, her brother, her mother and two if not all of her half-brothers. Presumably the son she had with Edward Welsh in 1877, Edward Atkins, was still alive. Of her siblings, only her sister Elizabeth was still living and Mary would have another eighteen years to watch over her children and grandchildren.

Elizabeth would outlive her by six years, dying,  in 1943 at the age of 86 in the small town of Terowie, where she was no doubt living with one of her children. Like Mary and her mother, Elizabeth Atkins Cox would be buried in Gladstone Cemetery with her husband, Henry Charles Cox, who had been born Macclesfield, England in 1847 and who died at Wirrabara on the 18th ofJune,1908.

September of 1907 must have been terrible for Mary. She buried her husband on September 10 and her brother, James Haynes Atkins on September 16. Within eight month she would bury her mother and  barely a month later, Mary would be standing again in Gladstone Cemetery; this time at the graveside of her brother-in-law, Henry Cox.

But perhaps the worst day for Mary Atkins Ross was October 26, 1936 when her oldest child, Constantinus John (Jack) Ross died suddenly of a heart attack while tending his vegetable garden in Murray Bridge.  He was only 46; dying younger than his grandfather, father and brothers. The death of a child must be the worst of all deaths for a parent. Nine months later Mary was also dead.

She left behind two (and possibly three) sons and a daughter who grieved her passing along with some eighteen known grandchildren.

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